AL ASAD, Iraq -- Many emotions are stirred when you talk about leaving home for an extended period of time. The fact that many of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines and sailors have deployed for a full year to the war-torn region of the world known as Iraq, adds to the strain on personal feelings from service members, family members and loved ones.
Members of the U.S. Armed Forces know the inherent dangers involved in their line of work. Additionally, the senior military leaders do a great deal to prepare everyone for the inevitable time away from home but, the reality is; leaving is never easy.
Approximately three months ago, Marines loaded with gear required for their duty in Iraq, stepped onto a plane headed toward the wide-open desert of the Western Al Anbar Province. Some said goodbye to family and friends with embraces and tears, while others said a silent goodbye to the base they call home. Either way, everyone leaving knew it would be a long time before they saw American soil again.
"For me leaving on the bus was the hardest part of the departure. Seeing my family sitting in the vehicle and us driving off in the bus was the hardest," said Staff Sgt. Anthony D. Ward, aviation supply chief, aviation logistics division, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd MAW. "I knew at that point, that would be the last time I was going to see them in a long time."
Ward and his wife, Melissa, have been married for 18 years and neither of them are new to being separated by deployments. Unfortunately, their youngest child, Sekai, has had a difficult time with the new transition.
"I hadn't prepared for how my 6-year-old son would react," explained Ward. "That moment when I hugged him and he actually realized that everyone around him was crying was tough to handle. It finally hit him that something was going on."
Staying in communication with his family from a work computer connection has eased some of the stress, but Ward mentioned his son is still having a little trouble coping with the situation.
"The 90-day mark just passed and the last part will go by quickly," said Ward, a Dallas native. "We just have to push through the middle of the deployment."
Strain as time goes on
No matter how much planning is done prior to the deployment, every issue cannot be anticipated. Inevitably, as soon as a service member travels more than 7,000 miles away, something will go wrong. Sometimes it is as simple as a leaky faucet in the kitchen and other times it is more serious, such as a death in the family.
"Everything has gone pretty well but I think one of the more difficult things for my wife right now is just holding a schedule," explained Sgt. Antoine LeBlanc, avionics calibration technician, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW. "She is left doing everything she used to do in addition to the things I took care of. She hardly has any time to herself and I don't think she has the opportunity very often to exercise, lay in a bathtub or just relax."
Halfway around the world, deployed service members are faced with their own set of issues. An example of this are the Marines assigned to security details. While typically busy with traffic and identification checks, they are often faced with moments of solitude.
"There's not a moment that goes by that I don't think about my wife, my three stepchildren and my 3-year-old daughter from a previous marriage," said Sgt. James K. Snead, as he stood post in an aluminum guard tower, keeping records of every vehicle that passes from behind his M-240G machine gun position.
Snead is a member of the Tactical Air Command Center Security Detachment, 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment Mechanized Infantry, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, and deployed in January.
Not all emotions are based on negative situations. Each command makes an effort to provide entertainment to break up the monotony and stress of the day-to-day job. Every individual deals with the stress in a different way and, therefore, the relief can come in a variety of forms.
Examples of entertainment for deployed forces are United Service Organizations comedy tours of the area, gathering for team sports or even weekly poker games.
"Al Asad is not the most pleasant of places to be, but I try to make the most of it and enjoy life. My office has a Sunday ritual -- the marathon of volleyball -- and on other days I enjoy getting out on my bicycle," said Gunnery Sgt. Russell J. Murzyn, information assurance technician, MWHS-3. "Of course, cycling here does not compare to cycling in San Diego, but it's still great to get out on the bike and have all your worries and stress fall by the wayside once you're dancing on the pedals."
There is a certain level of strength needed by the men and women of the armed forces to get through the situations they are faced with.
"The biggest challenge of deploying this time has been missing my family," said LeBlanc, who is now on his second deployment to Iraq. "The last time I came out here my daughter was only a couple of months old and I hadn't bonded with her much. Now she's almost 2 years old and when I left I was much closer with her and my wife."
Working things out
As time goes on a routine is established on both sides of the world and communication with loved ones becomes more defined and structured.
"When I first got out here, my wife and I were talking every day and now we've slowed down to about once a week," said LeBlanc, a native of Kenner, La. "That seems to be helping because you have time to think about things and you focus on the important stuff."
Various forms of communication are available but many require standing in line and waiting for an available spot or staying late at work because of the time difference.
"It's great when I can video chat with my wife and kids but sometimes that is very difficult too," said Ward. "Even though my son says things are going well, I can see it in his eyes that he's thinking, 'You need to hurry up and come home because I'm missing you.'"
In Ward's absence he has the advantage of two older daughters, 14-year-old Cherika and 17-year-old Chalissia, in the household to help with the daily duties.
"My older daughters have stepped up in playing my role and that helps a lot," explained Ward.
The strain of a full year deployment is also made a little easier in part to a 15-day leave period where the service member can either fly home or to a variety of other locations. Additionally, many will receive a 4-day pass to Kuwait to help break up the daily work routine.
The Marines with 3rd MAW are not unlike any other deployed force. They work long hours in an uncomfortable environment while separated from their families and friends and most of them do it with a smile on their faces because this is what they joined to do. Doing their jobs in a deployed environment where their actions either directly or indirectly impact an entire country is powerful.